Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 17:1-7 and Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Narrative Lectionary: Moses and God’s Name, Exodus 1:8-14 (1:15-2:10), 3:1-15 (Mark 12:26-27a)
As we follow the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in the season after Pentecost, we have come to the second occasion where the Israelites complain after their liberation from Egypt. First, it was over food. This time, it is over water. They demand water from Moses and quarrel with him. Moses in turn cries out to God because the people are holding him responsible. God tells Moses to take some of the elders and go ahead to Horeb, and to take the staff that he struck the Nile with. Horeb was where Moses encountered the burning bush, and here, at the rock, God instructs Moses to strike it so that water will flow, in the sight of the elders and the people. The people questioned whether God was with them or not, and the sign of the water at Horeb was a reminder that God had been with them all along. When Moses struck the Nile with his staff, the water was made undrinkable, but here, when Moses strikes the rock under God’s instruction, drinkable water is found.
Psalm 78 is a long poem of instruction, reminding the people of their history and past mistakes in failing to listen to God. In verses 1-4, the psalmist introduces this wisdom psalm, a lesson for the people of what has been learned from God throughout their history. In verses 12-16, the psalmist recalls how God led the people through the Red Sea, splitting water to walk through and splitting rocks to drink from. Though most of the psalm focuses on what the people have failed to do or learn, this portion focuses on what God has done for their ancestors as they came out of the wilderness, despite that the people have forgotten this.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32. A troubling passage, the first four verses use a common saying among the people that Jeremiah 31:29-30 also questions, about parents eating sour grapes and children suffering for it. In short, the idea that children would suffer because of the sins of their parents is put to rest by these two prophets. Those who sin will be responsible for the repercussions of their actions. In Ezekiel’s view, everyone has sinned, and everyone is responsible, not God, for the consequences of their actions. Verses 25-32 continue this discourse. The people say that God’s ways are unfair, but they are the ones breaking from God’s ways repeatedly. In God’s view, the people’s ways are unfair because they are still unjust and irresponsible—all of them. But if the people repent and turn back to God, they will find life. This is what God desires—that they find a new heart and new spirit. God does not desire destruction and death, but life.
Psalm 25 is an alphabet acrostic poem, with each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 1-9 is a plea to God to not allow their enemies to overtake them, and for God to make known God’s ways. The psalmist desires for God to lead them because they want to follow God all their days. The author seeks forgiveness for the sins of their youth and to remember God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God is a good teacher, leading sinners in the right way, and teaches those who are humble in the ways of justice.
The Epistle reading continues its series in Philippians with 2:1-13. A theme of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is to be of the same mind and to have the same love. This doesn’t mean one necessarily agrees with everything, but that they remember their purpose is to follow Jesus Christ. Verses 6-11 contain an ancient confession of Christ, the one who was equal to God but did not exploit his power, emptied himself and became humble to the point of death on the cross. Because of Christ’s humility, we all ought to humble ourselves before the name of Jesus Christ, who has been exalted by God. Verses 12-13 contain encouragement for the people of Philippi to know Christ’s salvation personally in their lives, because God is at work in each of them. The urging of unity comes with the understanding that each person has a relationship with Christ, and that in humility, we serve and worship Christ together.
Jesus’s authority is challenged in Matthew 21:23-32. Jesus doesn’t come from a recognizable group, and so members of other first-century Jewish groups want to know who he is. Jesus, in turn, asks them a question about John’s authority, knowing that the crowd would have strong opinions about it because they liked John. So when those who questioned Jesus refuse to respond, Jesus also refuses to respond directly. Instead, Jesus tells a parable about two sons and who obeys God. Is it the one who said they would do something and failed to do it, or the one who refused but later changed their mind? A good question for us today is who really has the authority—the people who claim the moral high ground but don’t think it applies to their own personal lives, judge others and treat others poorly, or those who know they struggle and are not perfect, but attempt to live into justice and compassion for all?
The Narrative Lectionary covers the beginnings of Moses in Exodus 1:8-2:10 and 3:1-15, which were the first selection of the Revised Common Lectionary readings on August 27th and September 3rd. Exodus 1:8 begins with a great reminder of what happens when we do not tell our stories and keep history alive: a new king came into power in Egypt who did not know Israel. The king’s lack of knowledge turned to fear. To manage their fear, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites. But the Israelites were of a greater number, so the oppressors turned to genocide—killing the boy children born to Israelite mothers. Nonetheless, even at the point of genocide there were those who resisted—the midwives. Chapter two turns to the particular story of a Levite woman who gave birth to a boy and hid him until she could no longer do so. With his sister watching over him, his mother hid him among the reeds until he happened to be discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who took him into her household. The boy’s sister even helped Pharoah’s daughter find a nurse—the boy’s mother—so that they could remain together. Pharoah’s daughter named him Moses. The story of the midwives to Moses’s mother, to his sister Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter show that resistance to empire does not always come through violence, but through the building of relationships necessary to survival. Exodus 2:1-10 has all the elements of a mythological figure—or superhero—birth story. The one who was supposed to die lived. Raised in the household of his people’s greatest enemy. He survived when others his age were slaughtered. He would someday rise up for his people. In Exodus 3:1-15, God is revealed to Moses through Moses’s encounter of the burning bush at Mount Horeb, a place so holy God instructs Moses to remove his shoes. God is revealed to be the same God of their ancestors, who led Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and all their descendants long ago and will now lead them out of Egypt and into freedom. However, Moses is skeptical, first of his own ability, and then wondering if the people will know who God is. God replies to Moses’s question about God’s name with, “I AM.” God’s name is a verb. God’s name is Being. God also instructs Moses to tell the people that this is the God of their ancestors from even before they entered Egypt. God has not forgotten the people, even if they may have forgotten.
The supplemental verses from Mark 12:26-27a are from Jesus’s teaching on resurrection, that God is the God of the living. Jesus quotes from Exodus, when God spoke to Moses and said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus shows this is the same God of their people who is revealed again.
For World Communion Sunday, one could focus on the Philippians text, to be of the same mind and the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Hospitality requires humility. On World Communion Sunday, we are making space, sharing hospitality, for siblings around the world. We recognize that our practices around communion vary but that we are united in this meal of remembrance through the simple act of drinking the cup, eating of bread together. In this act we are one. This, along with baptism, are unifying symbols of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We don’t use the same breads, we don’t all drink from the same cup or use wine, but we all do this in remembrance. We all pause for a moment to be united in the same mind and same love.
Life isn’t fair. One of the earliest teachings we all learn, and it is not a happy lesson. Ezekiel reminds us that we can’t blame others for our own actions. We are all responsible for ourselves. However, the prophet also reminds us that God desires life, not death, and restoration, not punishment. Moses tried to show the people that God was still with them, in hopes that they would turn back to God from their complaining, as God instructed him to strike the rock at Horeb. Jesus in turn shows the people in power that true authority is found in faithful lives, not in what group one belongs to. On World Communion Sunday, our denominational lines, our lines of class, race, gender, orientation—anything that we use to divide—are erased in an act we share together in faithfulness to Christ’s instruction. Our faithfulness is demonstrated in our oneness, that includes all our diversities.
Call to Worship (from Philippians 2:1-5, 13a)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
Any consolation from love,
Any sharing in the Spirit,
Any compassion and sympathy,
Make our joy complete:
Be of the same mind,
Having the same love,
Being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
In humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of us look not to our own good,
But take notice of what is good for others, too.
Let the same mind be in us that is in Christ Jesus.
For it is God who is at work in us.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we talk a good game about unity but we don’t like to play it. We claim unity on our home court with our own rules. We talk about being on the same team but ignore those who don’t play the same way we do, or we tell them they’re doing it wrong. We become competitive and aggressive when we all have the same goal in mind, to follow You, to live into Your ways. Remind us that our churches, our neighborhoods, our homes are not places to demonstrate our superiority but our humility. You came to us as one of us, instead of an all-powerful deity who could destroy and raise up. You came to heal and to love and to feed and encourage. You called us into the work of justice and compassion. Why we think we still own a corner of the truth, that our church, or our version of the Bible, or our way of praying or doing anything can compare to what You have done for us is beyond words. Forgive our selfishness and short-sightedness, Creator of us All. Forgive our foolish ways. Forgive our empty words and rituals and traditions and call us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk with You. Remind us that each living person is our sibling in Christ and that every living thing was made by You. Call us into the work of peacemaking, living into Your reign on earth as it is in heaven, and remind us that we are one people: human beings, on one planet: Earth, with the same Creator. In the love of Jesus we pray all things. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 2:6-11)
“though Christ was in the form of God, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Christ and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Because Christ was raised, because Christ is exalted above all, we know the fullness of God’s love and compassion. We are forgiven and set free. We have the power to go into the world and share God’s love. This is our calling. This is our commitment. Go with all of Christ’s humility to serve and share as Christ did, that the reign of God is here and now, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Prayer for World Communion Sunday
Almighty Creator, we give You thanks and praise. On this World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that You made us all in Your image, all with different gifts, but the same Spirit. In all parts of the earth we have come to know You in different ways through our cultures and traditions and teachings, but we are united in Your love for us, demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. In these symbols of the cup and of the bread, these simple gifts of nourishment, we recognize that we are one. We all must eat, we all must drink. We eat and drink of You because You are the one who created, redeems, and sustains us. As we share these gifts from You, in humility we show our gratitude for Your creation. We give our thanks for Your wondrous diversity that breathes in each of us. And we share together our common humanity, and our common hope that is found in You, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.